An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

RFRA sought to restore Sherbert’s more protective test. Specifically, under RFRA, once again, a law could not “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion unless the state can show it had a compelling interest for doing so. States that violated RFRA could be sued in federal court. Congress used its Section 5 powers to abrogate state sovereign immunity.

After RFRA was enacted, the city of Boerne, Texas denied a building permit to St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Generally, the city — a subdivision of the state — could not be sued in federal court. However, Archbishop Flores was able to sue the city because of RFRA. He claimed that the denial of the building permit substantially burdened his free exercise of religion and that the city failed to show that it had a compelling interest to deny the permit.

The Supreme Court held that Congress lacked this power. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.

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